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473 Words on “A Thousand and One”

Posted by April 29th, 2023 No Comments »

A Thousand and One (2023)
Directed by A.V. Rockwell
Starring Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross and William Catlett

Melodrama is not a bad word. Sure, it gets a bad rap for intentionally eliciting emotional responses, but isn’t that what cinema is supposed to do?

A.V. Rockwell’s feature film debut, A Thousand and One, does just that – uses melodrama in an attempt to make the audience feel a particular way. It also lets you stew in misery for nearly an hour and a half before delivering a big emotional catharsis.

While you are stewing in misery throughout the first two acts, A Thousand and One also delivers dramatic changes in both time and character. To account for the growth of the film’s main character, a kid named Terry, Rockwell cast a team of actors including Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney and Josiah Cross. Each plays Terry with a coy wonderment throughout the many stages of his life.

Teyana Taylor (Madea’s Big Happy Family, Coming 2 America) plays Terry’s Mom, Inez, as she adjusts to life outside of Riker’s Island and reunites with her son. The film focuses on this interpersonal connection as Inez works hard to give her son all of the things she never had. At the same time, her harsh parenting methods – likely derived from her own journey to adulthood – slowly drive Terry away. This paradox gives us Terry in three stages, at ages 6, 13 and 17, with each iteration retreating deeper inside a shy, quiet shell that few can crack. 

William Catlett plays “Lucky,” the only man in Terry’s life, and even though it is with an on again off again frequency, we get to see what is rarely shown in urban melodrama, a man being a father not just a dad. 

A Thousand and One asks important questions like “how can it be safer to be homeless?  “And, where do you go when you can’t afford rent?” Inspiringly, this mother/son never tap out, even after a series of life events beats them down. As New York City changes with each new mayor, one thing remains the same: gentrification, which is sold to the press and the citizens as an attempt to make the city safer.

I hope A.V. Rockwell continues to delve into the maligned sub-genre of Melodrama. If esteemed German director Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life, All That Heaven Allows) can make a career out of it, why can’t she? After all, this debut, which she wrote as well as directed, bludgeoned me into puddy in a 104-capacity theater with 101 empty seats before delivering a stunning reveal. That’s exactly the type emotional experience I want from a film.

If Sirk’s melodramatic crown jewel Imitation of Life (1959) is an A, then so is A Thousand and One

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